Classic Compilation: Clifford T Ward – Gaye and Other Stories

The aging process is a strange thing and effects us all in different ways. Some of us barely notice it, there are those that do all they can to hold back the ravages of time, and there are those that accept it with a wry smile and open arms.

There was a time when the majority of the music I appreciated was played by young men with big guitars who played them very loudly and I couldn’t see a time when I would be out of step with what was new, fresh and exciting. Inevitably my tastes changed slowly over time and I listened less and less to who the NME was writing about and I had started to plough my own furrow. I didn’t feel the need for a constant adrenalin rush and excitement. I mellowed, tuned into Radio 2 from time to time and realised that there was a lot more to great music than rock.

Clifford T Ward had a reputation as a somewhat lightweight singer songwriter and has on more than one occasion been referred to as a “housewives’ favourite”. This is underselling the talent of Stourport’s finest somewhat though, as he was a songwriter of real depth and possessed a voice of rare emotion. Songs like “Cellophane” and “Jig-Saw Girl” are superior pop fare, whereas the other end of the scales are orchestrated piano-led ballads like “Gaye”, “Not Waving – Drowning” and of course “Homethoughts From Abroad”. It’s classy, considered and well thought out stuff, and while it rarely gets the pulse racing, there’s something rather gentle and comforting about it.

Perhaps that’s the appeal of Clifford T Ward to me. After years of being an angry young man, listening to music with high energy levels, about 12 years ago I slowly realised that I simply was not looking for excitement, glamour and edge-of-the-seat thrills in my life, and like a lot of people all I really want is security, to achieve my emotional rather than my material goals and to lead a simple and uncomplicated life. Clifford T Ward makes sense to me and his distinct lack of showiness makes sense in my life. 

While the world and its budgie have spent the last quarter of a century going all misty eyed over the brief career of Nick Drake, it seems a shame that Ward continues to get overlooked. Perhaps it’s because Ward doesn’t have the tragic loner status of Drake, perhaps it’s because Ward specialised in lush orchestrated ballads rather than stripped-down bedsit confessionals. While he did not pass away until 2001, the fact remains that Ward’s recording career was cut sadly short by multiple sclerosis, which in a way is just as tragic as Drake’s demise, as Ward still had the talent, but sadly no longer had the strength to utilise it and he knew it.

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